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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

THE BOOK OF DAYS
By Steve Rasnic Tem
Subterranean Press/ $40/ 250 pages
ISBN: 1931081395 (May 2003)

Cover One would think it natural for fantasists to take chances with the form of their fiction. What, after all, is more audacious than fantasy? Still, few ever stray from the straight and narrative -- perhaps this reticence arises from a lack of skill rather than courage. Steve Tem possesses both the guts and the ability to try about anything with his fiction and his best work (like "The Man on the Ceiling" co-written with Melanie Tem) is often that which strays farthest from the oft-trod trail.

The Book of Days meanders somewhere between novel and short story collection. It's not quite the central character's diary either, although the entries are made on a daily basis. A diary or journal connotes some personal recording of events, experiences, and observation. The Book of Days does not consist of memorandums but of fabrications composed from bits and pieces of reality, notable anniversaries, memorable historical dates, and birthdays of the famous or infamous.

Cal, the writer-protagonist, has left his wife and children because he loves them too much. There are so many dangers in the world and he is overwhelmed by the task of protecting them as he feels he should. Cal, retreating from life and reality, returns alone to the rural cabin of his childhood. There, for more than six months, he crawls, day-by-day, away from the brink of insanity, using the daily stories he writes to heal himself.

Motivated by dates on calendars, Cal's revelatory writings vary from the apparent -- on Edward Gorey's birthday (February 27), Cal produces a macabre alphabet -- to the indirect -- Jack Ruby's death (January 3, 1964) evokes a surrealistic pondering on secrets. Odd juxtapositions often stir some strangely effective muse: E.E. Cummings birthday (1894), Mata Hari's execution (1917), and Marshall Rommel's suicide (1944) all occurred on October 14 -- thus a poem in Cummings' style with references to the exotic spy and the Desert Fox, but still connected to Cal's life. Events of September 11 [The Boston Red Sox win their last World series (1918), a year before selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees; William Sydney Porter (O. Henry) born (1862)] produce a Henry-esque story of sandlot baseball, fathers and sons Cal's jittery emotional state is processed and calmed through his odd form of calendar contemplation. He's like a meth tweaker transformed into a Zen master. In Tem's skilled hands, the intangible is made tangible through metaphor and imagery. He transcends his own gimmick to achieve a work that is both intriguing and inspirational. -- (Review originally appeared in Cemetery Dance #45)

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Copyright © 2003 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.